Public Has Right to View Anonymous Voted Ballots Without Delay: Texas AG

Public Has Right to View Anonymous Voted Ballots Without Delay: Texas AG
People cast their ballots at a polling location in Texas, as seen in a file photo. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Darlene McCormick Sanchez

Ballots cast in Texas elections are considered records that the public has a right to access, according to an opinion released by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The decision allows the public and members of the Texas Legislature to view and copy ballots cast anonymously without delay. Anonymous ballots are those with no identifiable information about the voter, or ballots with voter-identifying data redacted.

Paxton said in a statement that the opinion, issued on Aug. 17, offers a crucial new tool to fight election fraud, which he has made a cornerstone of his office.

“This opinion will help create new processes that can be used to verify [that] our elections have been conducted fairly and without any fraud,” Paxton wrote. “My office continues to lead from the front in the battle for election integrity, and we won’t back down until our elections are completely and totally secure.”

Paxton’s opinion said anonymous ballots are election records under the Election Code, and the Legislature has established procedures aimed at both preserving those records and granting public access to them.

The opinion replaces Texas Attorney General Opinion 505, established 34 years ago, making cast ballots confidential during a 22-month preservation period after an election.

Hans von Spakousky, an election law expert at the Heritage Foundation, applauded Paxton's action, saying that the prior opinion didn't make sense. The requirements of preserving election records for 22 months shouldn't negate public inspections of the ballots.

"Transparency is a fundamental part of honest elections," von Spakousky told The Epoch Times via text.

The Texas Legislature also passed sweeping election reforms in 2021 under Senate Bill 1 that banned overnight and drive-through voting in the 2020 election—practices taken up by Democratic-controlled Harris County, the state’s most populous county. The law tightened voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots and made it a state felony for local officials to distribute unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots.

Several citizens and citizen groups around Texas requested access to voting records after the 2020 election, which was scrutinized for fraud in swing states after former President Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden. Democrats have said there is no proof of widespread cheating during the 2020 election, calling such allegations a lie.

In July, the Tarrant County Citizens for Election Integrity began conducting a citizens audit of election results for the spring primary in Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth. The county drew attention when computer problems delayed the results of its primary election in March. In the 2020 general election, Tarrant County also experienced delays in election results after officials reported that voting machines rejected 11,000 mail-in ballots due to barcode errors.

Paxton’s opinion is in response to letters from State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Haslet), chairman of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, and State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), chairman of the Texas Senate Veteran Affairs and Border Security Committee.

Both requested an opinion from Paxton last year on the confidentiality of voted ballots, which are anonymous by design.

Krause, in a letter on Aug. 16, 2021, wanted to know if a member of the public or a legislator could inspect anonymous voted ballots. He said that members of the public and legislators were interested in auditing the results of the Texas elections. Still, election administrators cited sections of the election code as preventing the release of materials necessary to conduct an audit during a 22-month holding period after an election.

Hancock’s letter, dated Sept. 28, 2021, was similar, centering on legislative information requests for ballots. It requested an opinion related to access by legislators to certain election records, including voted ballots.

Texas Government Code provides members of the legislature authority to request public information for legislative purposes, including confidential information, he wrote, adding election administrators and district attorneys have cited sections of the election code as preventing the release of cast ballots.

Hancock was contacted for comment but told The Epoch Times that he would be unavailable on Aug. 22 and could not immediately discuss the ruling.

Krause did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Darlene McCormick Sanchez reports for The Epoch Times from Texas. She writes on a variety of issues with a focus on Texas politics, election fraud, and the erosion of traditional values. She previously worked as an investigative reporter and covered crime, courts, and government for newspapers in Texas, Florida, and Connecticut. Her work on The Sinful Messiah series, which exposed Branch Davidians leader David Koresh, was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting in the 1990s.